Appeal hearing for dismissed Sullivan County teacher concludes, decision to be made in October

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The three-day appeal hearing for a former Sullivan County high school teacher is now over.

Matthew Hawn, a former Contemporary Issues teacher at Sullivan Central High School, was dismissed in June after parents complained over curse words used in class content.

“I don’t understand how one reprimand can go straight to a dismissal,” Hawn said Wednesday during the appeal.

Matthew Hawn was cross-examined by lawyers about what happened from the first complaint about the language in an assigned article and video watched in class.

“If I’m messing up, then specifically tell me what I’m doing. That’s the way education works,” Hawn said. “I’m here fighting for my job because I want to teach here.”

Matthew Hawn on what he feels that he did to fix the issues after the first reprimand.

An article released by the Atlantic in the middle of the hearing entitled “He Taught a Ta-Nehisi Coates Essay. Then He Was Fired” became an additional piece of evidence.

“This paragraph is claiming that the administration in this case, or at least it’s inferring was motivated by the Critical Race Theory Legislation, Critical Race Theory in general, and I want to ask Mr. Hawn questions about that since it’s being alluded to,” said Chris McCarty, the school’s attorney.

“And Mr. Hawn did not write this article,” responded Virginia McCoy, Hawn’s attorney. “He is not the person with the knowledge to be able to answer those questions.”

Part of the heated discussion Wednesday over the Atlantic article.

The author of “White Privilege,” the video at the center of the controversy was at the hearing.

“The curse words were just used as a scapegoat,” said Kyla Jenee Lacey, author of ‘White Privilege.’ “The required reading is littered with curse words and some that I don’t even use, but this particular piece? It was because it was speaking out about white supremacy, then all of the sudden it’s problematic.”

She even testified on Tuesday.

“To be told that I wasn’t a credible source to my own experience was really disheartening and even dehumanizing,” she said. “A lot of times when you talk about race, white people get uncomfortable and the conversation stops but the racism doesn’t. It’s a matter of it’s important for students to have these challenging things. They can have challenging courses that are difficult…intellectually but they can’t have something that challenges how they view things. It doesn’t make sense.”

Lacey on what she hopes people learn from Hawn’s situation.

Hawn’s fate will be determined by the Sullivan County Board of Education after the hearing officer’s presentation is returned.

“I wouldn’t have come and shown up and done this had I not believed in my case. I want to be back here teaching,” Hawn said.

Both lawyers must submit their facts and findings to the hearing officer, Dale Conder, by October 1. His decision on whether or not the dismissal will be upheld will be announced on October 11.

“I make findings of fact and based on the facts and the law, I draft conclusions of law and have a separate conclusions section at the end,” said Conder, of Rainey, Kizer, Riviere, and Bell Law PLC in Jackson, Tennessee. “I issue an opinion and then the school board will vote to accept it or to reject it after they reviewed it.”

To see live tweets of the appeal hearing from all three days, click here.

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